Sunday, December 30, 2012

Death by dysfunction

As nauseating and potentially damaging as the current stalemate over the fiscal cliff is, it's only one of several important pieces of legislation to run afoul of the dysfunctional Republican House of Representatives.

Farm Bill. In June, the Farm Bill, which sets the country's agricultural policy, authorizes U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, and funds food and farm disaster assistance programs passed the Senate (S. 3240) with a bipartisan 64-35 majority. The bill includes several tough reforms; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would cut $23.1 billion in expenditures over the next ten years

The House Committee on Agriculture marked up a version of the bill and passed it with an overwhelming and bipartisan 35-11 vote. However, there it stopped, as House leaders, under pressure from extreme conservatives, refused to allow a general vote. Foreshadowing the shrewd strategy that he would later adopt for the fiscal cliff, House Speaker Boehner substituted a one-year "plan B" bill but then pulled that when the radical right wouldn't go along.

As the year ends, $23.1 billion in program cuts along with five-year certainty for farm policy languish without an up or down vote because the cuts aren't extreme enough for a portion of the radical right. Worse, several provisions of the current farm bill are set to expire on January 1, including the dairy cliff.

Postal Service reform. In April, the Senate passed a bill on a 62 to 37 vote to reform the U.S. Postal Service to help it stave off bankruptcy. The Postal Service faces a number of structural challenges, many of which are imposed on it by Congress. The Senate bill would allow the Postal Service to downsize its workforce more quickly and reduce some of its obligations under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act. The Senate measure is a half-step; more fundamental reforms are needed. However, it would provide the Postal Service with some breathing room. The House has refused to take up the Senate measure or to consider the measure introduced by its own Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Senate bill is hardly a thing of beauty and would have a net ten-year cost of $12 billion. However, by failing to act and delaying reforms, the House is digging the Postal Service in even deeper and making the eventual cost even higher.

Hurricane Sandy Relief. Following its own dithering, the Senate this week passed a bill to provide $60 billion to help residents of New Jersey, New York and other northeastern states recover from Hurricane Sandy. The bill passed with bipartisan support on a 62-32 vote, but like other bipartisan Senate legislation, it will likely never receive consideration in the House.

Each of these measures, if given an up-or-down vote in the House, would almost certainly pass. It is shameful that the House will not consider the measures or even vote on alternatives.